Obama Addresses Sony Hack, Net Privacy at Cyber Security Summit

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The president told an audience at Stanford University on Friday that the Sony Studios hacking is a striking example of the economic threat cyber-crime poses to the American economy

President Barack Obama told a summit of lawmakers, high tech researchers and leading business executives gathered at Stanford University on Friday that the hacking of Sony Studios’ computer system was a striking example of the economic threat cyber-crime poses to the American economy.

The president said government increasingly is being called upon to act as the sheriff in the “wild West” of the web. “When something like Sony happens,” he told an audience that included Apple CEO Tim Cook, “people turn to us in government and ask what we’re doing about it.”

Obama added that by necessity the government has its own "significant capabilities" in the cyber world.

"People, rightly, ask, well, what safeguards do we have against government intruding on our own privacy," Obama said. "And it's hard, and it constantly evolves because the technology so often outstrips whatever rules and structures and standards have been put in place, which means that government has to be constantly self-critical and we have to be able to have an open debate about it."

Addressing the White House Summit on Cybersecurity and Consumer Protection, the president also repeated his endorsement of net neutrality, cited the need to more rigorously protect the privacy of individuals and for greater cooperation between government, academia and business to share information on cyber threats and to devise new systems of online security. Obama's remarks were live streamed on the White House's website on Friday.

At the conclusion of his remarks, the president went to an on-stage desk and signed an executive order directing more sharing of information on network threats between government business, establishing information centers on cyber security and calling for more public-private partnerships on the issue. The order also grants more liability protection to companies and analysis organizations that share information on web threats.

Cook used his remarks to make a plea for greater cooperation and more attention to gay rights. Like other executives gathered in America’s high tech heartland, Cook is concerned that government not take steps, as the FBI has recommended, to limit the encryption of smart phone data.

Continued concern over NSA surveillance—the topic of one of this year’s Oscar-nominated documentaries, Citizenfour—overshadowed Friday’s summit and its attendant panel discussions, where questions of individual privacy arose alongside pleas for greater private sector cooperation with government.

Obama compared construction of the Internet to the building of a “magnificent cathedral,” but also said that is potential for good and harm presented the “great paradox of our age.” Resolving that paradox, he repeatedly argued, will require greater cooperation between the high tech and intellectual property industries and government on a range of cyber security and privacy issues.